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InTheLoop | 07.06.2010

July 6, 2010

FLUXNET Helps Provide Insights into the Global Carbon Cycle

FLUXNET, an earth science collaboration, coordinates regional and global analysis of observations from micrometeorological tower sites that measure the exchanges of carbon dioxide, water vapor, and energy between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. Environmental researchers around the globe can share and analyze FLUXNET field data through an online collaboration portal, which was developed with the Berkeley Water Center by a team of researchers and computer scientists from Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Computing for Science Department (ACS), the University of California at Berkeley, Microsoft Research, and the University of Virginia.

The team began building the portal three years ago, and today two research teams that have reaped the benefits of this architecture will see their findings published in the journal Science. The papers are “Terrestrial Gross Carbon Dioxide Uptake: Global Distribution and Covariation with Climate” and “Global Convergence in the Temperature Sensitivity of Respiration at Ecosystem Level.”

For Platinum Catalysts, Smaller May be Better

When it comes to metal catalysts, the platinum standard is, well, platinum. However, at about $2,000 an ounce, platinum is more expensive than gold. The high cost of the raw material presents major challenges for the future wide scale use of platinum in fuel cells. With a little help from CRD’s Lin-Wang Wang, a Berkeley Lab study showed that under high pressure, nanoparticle clusters of platinum potentially can outperform the single crystals of platinum now used in fuel cells and catalytic converters. Read more.

Lab Announces New International Center for Computational Science

The International Center for Computational Science (ICCS) is a new international collaboration aimed at creating computational tools to help scientists make more effective use of new computing technologies, including multicore processors. ICCS is located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, with partners at the University of Heidelberg in Germany and the National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in China. Read more.

Computational Science Summer School to Be Held Aug. 2–6 at NERSC

The new International Center for Computational Science (see item above) announces a one-week summer school from August 2–6, 2010 on techniques for programming multicore devices such as graphics processing units (GPUs) for advanced scientific computation. Wen-mei Hwu of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and David Kirk of NVIDIA will remotely teach full-day of classes with hands-on practice sessions at NERSC in downtown Oakland. The course is open to all, with a few prerequisites. Registration is free but is limited to 35 participants on a first-come, first-served basis. See details here.

Vis Researchers Win Best Paper at Eurographics Symposium

The paper “MPI-Hybrid Parallelism for Volume Rendering on Large, Multi-Core Systems,” written by Mark Howison, Wes Bethel, and Hank Childs of CRD’s Visualization and Analytics Group, was one of two Best Paper winners at EGPGV, the Eurographics Symposium on Parallel Graphics and Visualization, held May 2–3 in Norrköping, Sweden. The authors were invited to submit extended versions to a special section on EGPGV 2010 in the IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics.

Safety Tip: Use Care When Opening and Closing Windows

Last week there was a near-miss incident in Building 50A when an open window with top-mounted hinges slammed against its frame and the glass shattered, narrowly missing the employee trying to close the window. This incident is a reminder that windows in the Building 50 complex do not contain safety glass and can shatter easily. Please use care when opening and closing windows, and ask for help if the window is too large for one person to handle.

CMD-IT Encourages Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT

CMD-IT is the new national Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology, which is focused on the following under-represented groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and people with disabilities. The center is comprised of corporations, academic institutions, government agencies, and non-profits.

CMD-IT’s mission is to ensure that under-represented groups are fully engaged in computing and information technologies, and to promote innovation that enriches, enhances, and enables these communities, such that more equitable and sustainable contributions are possible by all communities.

“Cultivating Cultural Diversity in Information Technology” by Valerie E. Taylor in the July 2010 issue of Communications of the ACM describes the motivation and goals of CMD-IT.

Link of the Week: IBM’s Watson Plays “Jeopardy!”

For the last three years, IBM scientists have been developing what they expect will be the world’s most advanced “question answering” machine, able to understand a question posed in everyday human elocution — “natural language,” as computer scientists call it — and respond with a precise, factual answer. In other words, it must do more than what search engines like Google and Bing do, which is merely point to a document where you might find the answer. It has to pluck out the correct answer itself. Technologists have long regarded this sort of artificial intelligence as a holy grail, because it would allow machines to converse more naturally with people, letting us ask questions instead of typing keywords.

Software firms and university scientists have produced question-answering systems for years, but these have mostly been limited to simply phrased questions. Nobody ever tackled “Jeopardy!” because experts assumed that even for the latest artificial intelligence, the game was simply too hard: the clues are too puzzling and allusive, and the breadth of trivia is too wide. With Watson, IBM claims it has cracked the problem — and aims to prove as much on national TV. The producers of “Jeopardy!” have agreed to pit Watson against some of the game’s best former players as early as this fall.

Read more in the New York Times Magazine article “What Is I.B.M.’s Watson?” by Clive Thompson.

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Computing Sciences organization provides the computing and networking resources and expertise critical to advancing the Department of Energy's research missions: developing new energy sources, improving energy efficiency, developing new materials and increasing our understanding of ourselves, our world and our universe.

ESnet, the Energy Sciences Network, provides the high-bandwidth, reliable connections that link scientists at 40 DOE research sites to each other and to experimental facilities and supercomputing centers around the country. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) powers the discoveries of 6,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities, including those at Berkeley Lab's Computational Research Division (CRD). CRD conducts research and development in mathematical modeling and simulation, algorithm design, data storage, management and analysis, computer system architecture and high-performance software implementation. NERSC and ESnet are DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world's most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab's scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the DOE’s Office of Science.

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.